Sirach (Selections)

Jump to any of the chapters included in this selection: Foreword, 1, 2, 24, 25, 26, 39, 40, 41, 42


Inasmuch as many and great truths have been given to us through the Law, the prophets, and the authors who followed them, for which the instruction and wisdom of Israel merit praise, it is the duty of those who read the scriptures not only to become knowledgeable themselves but also to use their love of learning in speech and in writing to help others less familiar. So my grandfather Jesus, who had long devoted himself to the study of the law, the prophets, and the rest of the books of our ancestors, and had acquired great familiarity with them, was moved to write something himself regarding instruction and wisdom. He did this so that those who love learning might, by accepting what he had written, make even greater progress in living according to the Law.

You are invited therefore to read it with good will and attention, with indulgence for any failure on our part, despite earnest efforts, in the interpretation of particular passages. For words spoken originally in Hebrew do not have the same effect when they are translated into another language. That is true not only of this book but of the Law itself, the prophecies, and the rest of the books, which differ no little when they are read in the original.

I arrived in Egypt in the thirty-eighth year of the reign of King Euergetes, and while there, I had access to no little learning. I therefore considered it my duty to devote some diligence and industry to the translation of this book. During this time I applied my skill for many sleepless hours to complete the book and publish it for those living abroad who wish to acquire learning and are disposed to live their lives according to the Law.

Chapter 1

God’s Gift of Wisdom

1All wisdom is from the Lord
     and remains with him forever.
2The sands of the sea, the drops of rain,
     the days of eternity—who can count them?
3Heaven’s height, earth’s extent,
     the abyss and wisdom—who can explore them?
4Before all other things wisdom was created;
     and prudent understanding, from eternity.

6The root of wisdom—to whom has it been revealed?
     Her subtleties—who knows them?
8There is but one, wise and truly awesome,
     seated upon his throne—the Lord.
9It is he who created her,
     saw her and measured her,
Poured her forth upon all his works,
10     upon every living thing according to his bounty,
     lavished her upon those who love him.

Fear of the Lord Is Wisdom

11The fear of the Lord is glory and exultation,
     gladness and a festive crown.
12The fear of the Lord rejoices the heart,
     giving gladness, joy, and long life.
13Those who fear the Lord will be happy at the end,
     even on the day of death they will be blessed.

14The beginning of wisdom is to fear the Lord;
     she is created with the faithful in the womb.
15With the godly she was created from of old,
     and with their descendants she will keep faith.

16The fullness of wisdom is to fear the Lord;
     she inebriates them with her fruits.
17Their entire house she fills with choice foods,
     their granaries with her produce.

18The crown of wisdom is the fear of the Lord,
     flowering with peace and perfect health.
19Knowledge and full understanding she rains down;
     she heightens the glory of those who possess her.

20The root of wisdom is to fear the Lord;
     her branches are long life.
21The fear of the Lord drives away sins;
     where it abides it turns back all anger.

22Unjust anger can never be justified;
     anger pulls a person to utter ruin.
23Until the right time, the patient remain calm,
     then cheerfulness comes back to them.
24Until the right time they hold back their words;
     then the lips of many will tell of their good sense.

25Among wisdom’s treasures is the model for knowledge;
     but godliness is an abomination to the sinner.
26If you desire wisdom, keep the commandments,
     and the Lord will bestow her upon you;
27For the fear of the Lord is wisdom and discipline;
     faithfulness and humility are his delight.

28Do not disobey the fear of the Lord,
     do not approach it with duplicity of heart.
29Do not be a hypocrite before others;
     over your lips keep watch.
30Do not exalt yourself lest you fall
     and bring dishonor upon yourself;

For then the Lord will reveal your secrets
     and cast you down in the midst of the assembly.
Because you did not approach the fear of the Lord,
     and your heart was full of deceit.

Chapter 2

Trust in God

1My child, when you come to serve the Lord,
     prepare yourself for trials.
2Be sincere of heart and steadfast,
     and do not be impetuous in time of adversity.
3Cling to him, do not leave him,
     that you may prosper in your last days.

4Accept whatever happens to you;
     in periods of humiliation be patient.
5For in fire gold is tested,
     and the chosen, in the crucible of humiliation.
6Trust in God, and he will help you;
     make your ways straight and hope in him.

7You that fear the Lord, wait for his mercy,
     do not stray lest you fall.
8You that fear the Lord, trust in him,
     and your reward will not be lost.
9You that fear the Lord, hope for good things,
     for lasting joy and mercy.

10Consider the generations long past and see:
     has anyone trusted in the Lord and been disappointed?
Has anyone persevered in his fear and been forsaken?
     has anyone called upon him and been ignored?
11For the Lord is compassionate and merciful;
     forgives sins and saves in time of trouble.

12Woe to timid hearts and drooping hands,
     to the sinner who walks a double path!
13Woe to the faint of heart! For they do not trust,
     and therefore have no shelter!
14Woe to you that have lost hope!
     what will you do at the Lord’s visitation?

15Those who fear the Lord do not disobey his words;
     those who love him keep his ways.
16Those who fear the Lord seek to please him;
     those who love him are filled with his law.
17Those who fear the Lord prepare their hearts
     and humble themselves before him.

18Let us fall into the hands of the Lord
     and not into the hands of mortals,
For equal to his majesty is his mercy;
     and equal to his name are his works.

Chapters 3–23 excluded from this selection

Chapter 24

Praise of Wisdom

1Wisdom sings her own praises,
     among her own people she proclaims her glory.
2In the assembly of the Most High she opens her mouth,
     in the presence of his host she tells of her glory:

3“From the mouth of the Most High I came forth,
     and covered the earth like a mist.
4In the heights of heaven I dwelt,
     and my throne was in a pillar of cloud.
5The vault of heaven I compassed alone,
     and walked through the deep abyss.
6Over waves of the sea, over all the land,
     over every people and nation I held sway.
7Among all these I sought a resting place.
     In whose inheritance should I abide?

8“Then the Creator of all gave me his command,
     and my Creator chose the spot for my tent.
He said, ‘In Jacob make your dwelling,
     in Israel your inheritance.’
9Before all ages, from the beginning, he created me,
     and through all ages I shall not cease to be.
10In the holy tent I ministered before him,
     and so I was established in Zion.
11In the city he loves as he loves me, he gave me rest;
     in Jerusalem, my domain.
12I struck root among the glorious people,
     in the portion of the Lord, his heritage.

13“Like a cedar in Lebanon I grew tall,
     like a cypress on Mount Hermon;
14I grew tall like a palm tree in Engedi,
     like rosebushes in Jericho;
Like a fair olive tree in the field,
     like a plane tree beside water I grew tall.
15Like cinnamon and fragrant cane,
     like precious myrrh I gave forth perfume;
Like galbanum and onycha and mastic,
     like the odor of incense in the holy tent.

16“I spread out my branches like a terebinth,
     my branches so glorious and so graceful.
17I bud forth delights like a vine;
     my blossoms are glorious and rich fruit.
19Come to me, all who desire me,
     and be filled with my fruits.
20You will remember me as sweeter than honey,
     better to have than the honeycomb.
21Those who eat of me will hunger still,
     those who drink of me will thirst for more.
22Whoever obeys me will not be put to shame,
     and those who serve me will never go astray.”

23All this is the book of the covenant of the Most High God,
     the Law which Moses commanded us
     as a heritage for the community of Jacob.
25It overflows, like the Pishon, with wisdom,
     and like the Tigris at the time of first fruits.
26It runs over, like the Euphrates, with understanding,
     and like the Jordan at harvest time.
27It floods like the Nile with instruction,
     like the Gihon at vintage time.
28The first human being never finished comprehending wisdom,
     nor will the last succeed in fathoming her.
29For deeper than the sea are her thoughts,
     and her counsels, than the great abyss.

30Now I, like a stream from a river,
     and like water channeling into a garden—
31I said, “I will water my plants,
     I will drench my flower beds.”
Then suddenly this stream of mine became a river,
     and this river of mine became a sea.
32Again I will make my teachings shine forth like the dawn;
     I will spread their brightness afar off.
33Again I will pour out instruction like prophecy
     and bestow it on generations yet to come.

Chapter 25

Those Who Are Worthy of Praise

1With three things I am delighted,
     for they are pleasing to the Lord and to human beings:
Harmony among relatives, friendship among neighbors,
     and a wife and a husband living happily together.
2Three kinds of people I hate,
     and I loathe their manner of life:
A proud pauper, a rich liar,
     and a lecherous old fool.

3In your youth you did not gather.
     How will you find anything in your old age?
4How appropriate is sound judgment in the gray-haired,
     and good counsel in the elderly!
5How appropriate is wisdom in the aged,
     understanding and counsel in the venerable!
6The crown of the elderly, wide experience;
     their glory, the fear of the Lord.

7There are nine who come to mind as blessed,
     a tenth whom my tongue proclaims:
The man who finds joy in his children,
     and the one who lives to see the downfall of his enemies.
8Happy the man who lives with a sensible woman,
     and the one who does not plow with an ox and a donkey combined.
Happy the one who does not sin with the tongue,
     who does not serve an inferior.
9Happy the one who finds a friend,
     who speaks to attentive ears.
10How great is the one who finds wisdom,
     but none is greater than the one who fears the Lord.
11Fear of the Lord surpasses all else.
     To whom can we compare the one who has it?

Wicked and Virtuous Women

13Any wound, but not a wound of the heart!
     Any wickedness, but not the wickedness of a woman!
14Any suffering, but not suffering from one’s foes!
     Any vengeance, but not the vengeance of one’s enemies!
15There is no poison worse than that of a serpent,
     no venom greater than that of a woman.
16I would rather live with a dragon or a lion
     than live with a wicked woman.
17A woman’s wicked disposition changes her appearance,
     and makes her face as dark as a bear.
18When her husband sits among his neighbors,
     a bitter sigh escapes him unawares.

19There is hardly an evil like that in a woman;
     may she fall to the lot of the sinner!
20Like a sandy hill to aged feet
     is a garrulous wife to a quiet husband.
21Do not be enticed by a woman’s beauty,
     or be greedy for her wealth.
22Harsh is the slavery and great the shame
     when a wife supports her husband.

23Depressed mind, gloomy face,
     and a wounded heart—a wicked woman.
Drooping hands and quaking knees,
     any wife who does not make her husband happy.
24With a woman sin had a beginning,
     and because of her we all die.
25Allow water no outlet,
     and no boldness of speech to a wicked woman.
26If she does not go along as you direct,
     cut her away from you.

Chapter 26

1Happy the husband of a good wife;
     the number of his days will be doubled.
2A loyal wife brings joy to her husband,
     and he will finish his years in peace.
3A good wife is a generous gift
     bestowed upon him who fears the Lord.
4Whether rich or poor, his heart is content,
     a smile ever on his face.

5There are three things I dread,
     and a fourth which terrifies me:
Public slander, the gathering of a mob,
     and false accusation—all harder to bear than death.
6A wife jealous of another wife is heartache and mourning;
     everyone feels the lash of her tongue.

7A wicked wife is a chafing yoke;
     taking hold of her is like grasping a scorpion.
8A drunken wife arouses great anger,
     for she does not hide her shame.
9By her haughty stare and her eyelids
     an unchaste wife can be recognized.

10Keep a strict watch over an unruly wife,
     lest, finding an opportunity, she use it;
11Watch out for her impudent eye,
     and do not be surprised if she betrays you:
12As a thirsty traveler opens his mouth
     and drinks from any water nearby,
So she sits down before every tent peg
     and opens her quiver for every arrow.

13A gracious wife delights her husband;
     her thoughtfulness puts flesh on his bones.
14A silent wife is a gift from the Lord;
     nothing is worth more than her self-discipline.
15A modest wife is a supreme blessing;
     no scales can weigh the worth of her chastity.
16The sun rising in the Lord’s heavens—
     the beauty of a good wife in her well-ordered home.
17The light which shines above the holy lampstand—
     a beautiful face on a stately figure.
18Golden columns on silver bases—
     so her shapely legs and steady feet.

Dangers to Integrity and Friendship

28Two things bring grief to my heart,
     and a third arouses my anger:
The wealthy reduced to want,
     the intelligent held in contempt,
And those who pass from righteousness to sin—
     the Lord prepares them for the sword.

29A merchant can hardly keep from wrongdoing,
     nor can a shopkeeper stay free from sin;

Chapters 27–38 excluded from this selection

Chapter 39

How different the person who devotes himself
     to the study of the law of the Most High!
1He explores the wisdom of all the ancients
     and is occupied with the prophecies;
2He preserves the discourses of the famous,
     and goes to the heart of involved sayings;
3He seeks out the hidden meaning of proverbs,
     and is busied with the enigmas found in parables.

4He is in attendance on the great,
     and appears before rulers.
He travels among the peoples of foreign lands
     to test what is good and evil among people.
5His care is to rise early
     to seek the Lord his Maker,
     to petition the Most High,
To open his mouth in prayer,
     to ask pardon for his sins.

6If it pleases the Lord Almighty,
     he will be filled with the spirit of understanding;
He will pour forth his words of wisdom
     and in prayer give praise to the Lord.
7He will direct his knowledge and his counsel,
     as he meditates upon God’s mysteries.
8He will show the wisdom of what he has learned
     and glory in the Law of the Lord’s covenant.

9Many will praise his understanding;
     his name can never be blotted out;
Unfading will be his memory,
     through all generations his name will live;
10Peoples will speak of his wisdom,
     and the assembly will declare his praise.
11While he lives he is one out of a thousand,
     and when he dies he leaves a good name.

Praise of God the Creator

12Once more I will set forth my theme
     to shine like the moon in its fullness!
13Listen to me, my faithful children: open up your petals,
     like roses planted near running waters;
14Send up the sweet odor of incense,
     break forth in blossoms like the lily.
Raise your voices in a chorus of praise;
     bless the Lord for all his works!
15Proclaim the greatness of his name,
     loudly sing his praises,
With music on the harp and all stringed instruments;
     sing out with joy as you proclaim:

16The works of God are all of them good;
     he supplies for every need in its own time.
17At his word the waters become still as in a flask;
     he had but to speak and the reservoirs were made.
18He has but to command and his will is done;
     nothing can limit his saving action.
19The works of all humankind are present to him;
     nothing is hidden from his eyes.
20His gaze spans all the ages:
     is there any limit to his saving action?
To him, nothing is small or insignificant,
     and nothing too wonderful or hard for him.
21No cause then to say: “What is the purpose of this?”
     Everything is chosen to satisfy a need.

22His blessing overflows like the Nile;
     like the Euphrates it enriches the surface of the earth.
23Even so, his wrath dispossesses the nations
     and turns fertile land into a salt marsh.
24For the virtuous his paths are level,
     to the haughty they are clogged with stones.
25Good things for the good he provided from the beginning,
     but for the wicked good things and bad.
26Chief of all needs for human life
     are water and fire, iron and salt,
The heart of the wheat, milk and honey,
     the blood of the grape, and oil, and clothing.
27For the good all these are good,
     but for the wicked they turn out evil.

28There are stormwinds created to punish;
     in their fury they can dislodge mountains.
In a time of destruction they hurl their force
     and calm the anger of their Maker.
29Fire and hail, famine and disease:
     these too were created for punishment.
30Ravenous beasts, scorpions, vipers,
     and the avenging sword to exterminate the wicked:
All these were created to meet a need,
     and are kept in his storehouse for the proper time.
31When he commands them, they rejoice,
     in their assigned tasks they do not disobey his command.

32That is why from the first I took my stand,
     and wrote down as my theme:
33The works of God are all of them good;
     he supplies for every need in its own time.
34There is no cause then to say: “This is not as good as that”;
     for each shows its worth at the proper time.
35So now with full heart and voice proclaim
     and bless his name!

Chapter 40

Joys and Miseries of Life

1A great anxiety has God allotted,
     and a heavy yoke, to the children of Adam,
From the day they leave their mother’s womb
     until the day they return to the mother of all the living.
2Troubled thoughts and fear of heart are theirs
     and anxious foreboding until death.
3Whether one sits on a lofty throne
     or grovels in dust and ashes,
4Whether one wears a splendid crown
     or is clothed in the coarsest of garments—
5There is wrath and envy, trouble and dread,
     terror of death, fury and strife.
Even when one lies on his bed to rest,
     his cares disturb his sleep at night.
6So short is his rest it seems like none,
     till in his dreams he struggles as he did by day,
Troubled by the visions of his mind,
     like a fugitive fleeing from the pursuer.
7As he reaches safety, he wakes up,
     astonished that there was nothing to fear.
8To all flesh, human being and beast,
     but for sinners seven times more,
9Come plague and bloodshed, fiery heat and drought,
     plunder and ruin, famine and death.
10For the wicked evil was created,
     and because of them destruction hastens.

11All that is of earth returns to earth,
     and what is from above returns above.
12All that comes from bribes or injustice will be wiped out,
     but loyalty remains forever.
13Wealth from injustice is like a flooding wadi,
     like a mighty stream with lightning and thunder,
14Which, in its rising, rolls along the stones,
     but suddenly, once and for all, comes to an end.
15The offshoot of violence will not flourish,
     for the root of the godless is on sheer rock.
16They are like reeds on riverbanks,
     withered before all other plants;
17But goodness, like eternity, will never be cut off,
     and righteousness endures forever.

18Wealth or wages can make life sweet,
     but better than either, finding a treasure.
19A child or a city will preserve one’s name,
     but better than either, finding wisdom.
Cattle and orchards make a person flourish;
     but better than either, a devoted wife.
20Wine and strong drink delight the soul,
     but better than either, love of friends.
21Flute and harp offer sweet melody,
     but better than either, a pure tongue.
22Grace and beauty delight the eye,
     but better than either, the produce of the field.
23A friend and a neighbor are timely guides,
     but better than either, a sensible wife.
24Relatives and helpers for times of stress;
     but better than either, charity that rescues.
25Gold and silver make one’s way secure,
     but better than either, sound judgment.
26Wealth and vigor make the heart exult,
     but better than either, fear of God.
In the fear of the Lord there is no want;
     whoever has it need seek no other support.
27The fear of God is a paradise of blessings;
     its canopy is over all that is glorious.

28My son, do not live the life of a beggar;
     better to die than to beg.
29When one has to look to a stranger’s table,
     life is not worth living.
The delicacies offered bring revulsion of spirit,
     and to the intelligent, inward torture.
30In the mouth of the shameless begging is sweet,
     but within him it burns like fire.

Chapter 41

1O death! How bitter is the thought of you
     for the one at peace in his home,
For the one who is serene and always successful,
     who can still enjoy life’s pleasures.
2O death! How welcome is your sentence
     to the weak, failing in strength,
Stumbling and tripping on everything,
     with sight gone and hope lost.
3Do not fear death’s decree for you;
     remember, it embraces those before you and those to come.
4This decree for all flesh is from God;
     why then should you reject a law of the Most High?
Whether one has lived a thousand years, a hundred, or ten,
     in Sheol there are no arguments about life.

5The children of sinners are a reprobate line,
     and witless offspring are in the homes of the wicked.
6The inheritance of children of sinners will perish,
     and on their offspring will be perpetual disgrace.
7Children curse their wicked father,
     for they suffer disgrace because of him.
8Woe to you, O wicked people,
     who forsake the Law of the Most High.
9If you have children, calamity will be theirs;
     and if you beget them, it will be only for groaning.
When you stumble, there is lasting joy;
     and when you die, you become a curse.
10All that is nought returns to nought,
     so too the godless—from void to void.

11The human body is a fleeting thing,
     but a virtuous name will never be annihilated.
12Have respect for your name, for it will stand by you
     more than thousands of precious treasures.
13The good things of life last a number of days,
     but a good name, for days without number.

True and False Shame

14bHidden wisdom and concealed treasure,
     of what value is either?
15Better is the person who hides his folly
     than the one who hides his wisdom.
14aMy children, listen to instruction about shame;
16a     judge of disgrace according to my rules,
16bNot every kind of shame is shameful,
     nor is every kind of disgrace to be recognized.
17Before father and mother be ashamed of immorality,
     before prince and ruler, of falsehood;
18Before master and mistress, of deceit;
     before the public assembly, of crime;
Before associate and friend, of disloyalty,
19     and in the place where you settle, of theft.
Be ashamed of breaking an oath or a covenant,
     and of stretching your elbow at dinner;
Of refusing to give when asked,
21     of rebuffing your own relatives;
Of defrauding another of his appointed share,
20a     of failing to return a greeting;
21cOf gazing at a man’s wife,
20b     of entertaining thoughts about another woman;
22Of trifling with a servant girl you have,
     of violating her bed;
Of using harsh words with friends,
     of following up your gifts with insults;

Chapter 42

1Of repeating what you hear,
     of betraying any secret.
Be ashamed of the right things,
     and you will find favor in the sight of all.

But of these things do not be ashamed,
     lest you sin to save face:
2Of the Law of the Most High and his precepts,
     or of justice that acquits the ungodly;
3Of sharing the expenses of a business or a journey,
     of dividing an inheritance or property;
4Of accuracy of scales and balances,
     of tested measures and weights;
Of acquiring much or little,
5     of bargaining in dealing with a merchant;
Of constant training of children,
     of beating the sides of a wicked servant;
6Of a seal to keep a foolish wife at home,
     of a key where there are many hands;
7Of numbering every deposit,
     of recording all that is taken in and given out;
8Of chastisement for the silly and the foolish,
     for the aged and infirm answering for wanton conduct.
Thus you will be truly refined
     and recognized by all as discreet.

A Father’s Care for His Daughter

9A daughter is a treasure that keeps her father wakeful,
     and worry over her drives away sleep:
Lest in her youth she remain unmarried,
     or when she is married, lest she be childless;
10While unmarried, lest she be defiled,
     or in her husband’s house, lest she prove unfaithful;
Lest she become pregnant in her father’s house,
     or be sterile in that of her husband.
11My son, keep a close watch on your daughter,
     lest she make you a laughingstock for your enemies,
A byword in the city and the assembly of the people,
     an object of derision in public gatherings.
See that there is no lattice in her room,
     or spot that overlooks the approaches to the house.
12Do not let her reveal her beauty to any male,
     or spend her time with married women;
13For just as moths come from garments,
     so a woman’s wickedness comes from a woman.
14Better a man’s harshness than a woman’s indulgence,
     a frightened daughter than any disgrace.

The Works of God in Nature

15Now will I recall God’s works;
     what I have seen, I will describe.
By the Lord’s word his works were brought into being;
     he accepts the one who does his will.
16As the shining sun is clear to all,
     so the glory of the Lord fills all his works;
17Yet even God’s holy ones must fail
     in recounting the wonders of the Lord,
Though God has given his hosts the strength
     to stand firm before his glory.
18He searches out the abyss and penetrates the heart;
     their secrets he understands.
For the Most High possesses all knowledge,
     and sees from of old the things that are to come.
19He makes known the past and the future,
     and reveals the deepest secrets.
20He lacks no understanding;
     no single thing escapes him.
21He regulates the mighty deeds of his wisdom;
     he is from all eternity one and the same,
With nothing added, nothing taken away;
     no need of a counselor for him!
22How beautiful are all his works,
     delightful to gaze upon and a joy to behold!
23Everything lives and abides forever;
     and to meet each need all things are preserved.
24All of them differ, one from another,
     yet none of them has he made in vain;
25For each in turn, as it comes, is good;
     can one ever see enough of their splendor?

Chapters 43–50 excluded from this selection